Laura Eddowes is a sales estimator at the
long-established and important Wolverhampton firm of Steelway,
and she has contacted me to tell me about a remarkable first,
both for the company and the city.
Laura writes that "regular users of the
Bilston Road will be familiar with the Steelway factory, but
what they may not be aware of is the company's contribution to
road safety. Wolverhampton led the way in July 1934 when the
UK's first pedestrian safety barriers were installed at the busy
junction of Princes Square. Steelway manufactured these after a
long and careful experiment and with the co-operation and
assistance of Mr. Edwin Tilley, chief constable, and Mr. H. B.
Robinson, the borough engineer and surveyor. It was after an
accident involving a boy at Princes Square that a means of
protection was necessary. The barriers stopped pedestrians
walking off a blind corner into the path of motorists. Some
residents were unhappy at the change but where Wolverhampton
led, London followed. On March 19th, 1935, Mr. Hore-Belisha,
then Minister of Transport, inaugurated London's first
pedestrian safety barriers at Britannia Crossing, Camden. Of
course, they were supplied by Steelway. A full copy of the
company's archives including a photo showing the 1937 coronation
barriers being installed will be available later this year from
||Princes Square, Wolverhampton,
in about 1934.
picture is important to Steelway as it shows the UK's
first pedestrian safety barriers which the company
supplied free of charge to Wolverhampton Council as part
of an experiment.
Steelway also has footage
showing Mr. Hore-Belisha inaugurating the country's
second barriers at Britannia Crossing, London, on March
|Steelway's achievement was a resounding one,
especially for a relatively new company. The business
had only been founded in 1928 at the Queensgate Works
site in Wolverhampton by C. W. Goodyear. Three years
later it merged with F. Hammond & Co., a noted
manufacturer of handrail standards.
Another view of those safety
barriers on the dangerous corner opposite the Royal
Mr. Hammond joined the board of
directors, which also included F. H. Clark as chairman,
J. E. Bettles as a director, and Miss E. K. Holbrook,
In addition Steelway was the sole
selling agent of drop forged handrail standards
manufactured by J. Brockhouse & Co. of West Bromwich and
in turn Mr. J. V. H. Brockhouse was the selling agent in
London for all Steelway products.
After the launch of Steelway's
first pedestrian guard rail in London, a second
installation was carried out on March 22nd, 1935, at
Whitechapel Crossing for the Metropolitan Borough of
Two years later the innovative
Wolverhampton company manufactured the sockets and
detachable uprights to form crowd control barriers for
the 1937 coronation of King George VI - parts of which
were used again for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
A letter of appreciation received
after the 1937 coronation from New Scotland Yard reads:
"Now that the coronation is a matter of history, I
should like to express my thanks to your firm for the
efficient way in which you met the demand for barrier
material. As you know the barriers were of unusual
design, which required special attention by you in
manufacture. They proved most satisfactory, and I have
not had any complaints regarding them. This is a matter
of satisfaction to all concerned."
A member of staff at work with a
Steelway trolley at the Steelway site on Bilston Road.
A St John's Ambulance visit to the
factory, probably to see the firm's stretcher design.
A pioneering enterprise in
industrial metalwork access, Steelway became well known
and highly regarded for its flooring, ladders, stairs,
handrails, guardrails, and platforms. It continues to be
held in esteem for such products.
During the Second World War, it
went over to war work and was involved in the
manufacture of stretchers for injured personnel and was
a member of the National Scheme for Disabled Men. Many
of the workers who left to fight in the war effort
returned to their original positions with the coming of
Eight years after the war ended,
Steelway became a subsidiary of the Glynwed Group of
companies and went on to provide open mesh flooring to
the Z Cars series stage sets and grating to the James
Bond films ‘On Her Majesty's Secret Service’ and
‘Diamonds Are Forever’.
Then in 1983 the company expanded
to form Steelway Fensecure. Fensecure itself traces its
origins back to 1918 when John Knowles (Wednesbury) Ltd.
was started by B. C. Knowles and J. J. Knowles.
Unsurprisingly for a Black Country town that was famed
as "Tubetown", the firm was a manufacturer of tube
fittings. However it was not until John Knowles was
bought out by Tipper Brothers in the 1960s that
Fensecure really came into its own. Using the tube
fittings of which the company was a specialist producer,
the classic range of tubular fencing systems was born.
From there, Fensecure soon became one of the country's
leading fencing manufacturers, a position which it still
Racks of raw materials await
transformation in this picture taken inside one of
After a number of ownership changes,
Steelway Fensecure became part of the Brigam group of companies
in 2005. Two years later it acquired Brickhouse Access Covers of
West Bromwich, now called Steelway Brickhouse (Steelway
Today this is one of three operating
divisions. The other two are Steelway (incorporating Rail and PP
Mackindale) and Steelway Fensecure. With a plant each in
Wolverhampton and West Bromwich and over 175 workers, these
divisions emphasise the ongoing importance of high quality
manufacturing in our region.
From making metal flooring, walkways,
railings and stairs for waterworks, nuclear power stations,
railways and factories, to carrying out spectacular restoration
projects like the rebuild of a century-old Great Western Railway
turntable as the centrepiece of a visitor attraction in Minehead.
Steelway's products all have one thing in common: they are made
to the highest standards in the Black Country.